Sharing our learning about the peer support PDA

18th November 2014

We are delighted to share the latest learning from the first ever delivery of the Personal Development Award in Mental Health Peer Support at Edinburgh College.

Independently evaluating the PDA

Edinburgh College logo

In September 2014, 13 students formally graduated from the first ever course on peer working developed and delivered in Scotland. SRN would like to acknowledge the hard work and commitment of these students who participated in the pilot PDA in Mental Health Peer Support at Edinburgh College. As part of our role to promote and support recovery and innovative change, SRN asked ScotCen to independently evaluate the pilot. This evaluation contributes to the growing evidence base and provides learning and shared experience of ‘what works’.

mindspace_logoReflecting on what works

Since the launch of the course at Edinburgh College, both Mindspace and Health in Mind’s CLEAR project have begun delivering the PDA. Last month SRN brought these organisations together with those involved in the Edinburgh pilot and others to share their experiences and learning at a roundtable discussion.

Key learning

There was clearly a strong commitment to and enthusiasm for the PDA. Everyone at the roundtable agreed that it had a lot to offer, whilst acknowledging that there is much to consider when delivering the course. Overall the consensus was that the course, which can be both academically and emotionally challenging, is of great benefit to peer workers.

Key themes emerged from our roundtable reflections and we would like to take this opportunity to share some of the highlights as part of our commitment to share learning.

Quote imageBenefits of the course

Overall, the agreement was that the course had much to offer both to peer workers and the wider mental health community/sector:

I definitely stand up for the idea that, that (the course) should be out there for peer workers….it’s really good for peer workers to be recognised formally, and have their own award in hand… an employer…it brings huge benefit to the project, to the people we support, but also to us and other colleagues” (Evaluation participant)

It would appear that those newer to peer working benefitted more from the course:

I learned very much a lot about my boundaries and how I work wi’ people – how much is safe for me to divulge aboot myself, aboot my family. I didnae really think an awfy lot aboot that before, but that has definitely came to the forefront for me…” (Evaluation participant)

However for those with more experience, the course provided them with the opportunity to reflect and refresh their knowledge and practice:

I think I have taken a lot from the course that I’m utilising in my daily practice and I also think that the college has refreshed a lot of things for me…

The benefits of the course are not just limited to students. Duncan described how facilitating the course with Mindspace is: “a precious opportunity to reflect and improve on the way I do things, it’s been good for personal development.


The PDA was developed to improve and recognise the knowledge and skills of peer workers, in both paid and volunteer roles. Those participating in the course to date have agreed that it can be both academically and emotionally challenging. Indeed those students who have withdrawn have indicated that these were the key factors in their decision to do so. However the level of withdrawals from the three courses so far is no higher than that expected in courses of this type.

Health in Mind logoExperience shows the great strength and determination people show in their personal recovery. Derek (a PDA student at Mindspace) initially found that the “experience as a participant was quite daunting, not only meeting new people but secondly the time gap since I was in formal education (22 years). Recognising my own level of recovery was important as…the language, essays and portfolio building can be quite daunting.” However he also reflected that, “overall, the PDA course has been so far educational, thought provoking and inspiring.”

Our shared learning has highlighted the need to provide information to ensure students are taking an informed decision to undertake the PDA and to prepare and support them through access to recovery education and study skills courses. It was also agreed that being challenged by the course is also a positive learning experience.

The course provider perspective

Though the three courses were delivered in different ways by the providers (Edinburgh College, Mindspace and Health in Mind), those involved all emphasised that the planning and preparation involved should not be underestimated. This is particularly important for a course that is highly participative and, at times, can be emotionally challenging. Experience highlights the need for skilled facilitators, who understand the peer working role and model the peer relationship.

Andreja, a Mental Health Practitioner with Mindspace, spoke of the importance of creating a learning environment and experienced facilitating the course as a co-creative experience:

all of us are involved in shared learning. There is an exchange of ideas and people have so much to contribute.

ls_ps_nov14_quote2The importance of having facilitators who understand the peer worker role was identified as invaluable:

Having a peer support worker co-facilitate gave that balance of view from theory to practice and individuality.” (Derek, PDA student at Mindspace)

Delivering the first course has been a huge learning experience for everyone involved. It has shown that while it can be a challenging experience for both students and those delivering the course there are substantial benefits for all involved. We hope this flavour of the rich learning from delivering this course will inspire you take action.

SRN are extremely keen to support further delivery of the PDA in Mental Health Peer Support. If you are interested in delivering the course, please get in touch as we would be delighted to speak with you about how we can help.

Download the independent evaluation of the PDA in Mental Health Peer Support

Download the notes from the PDA Roundtable Discussion

Read about the piloting of the PDA